December 29, 2020

2021: Looking Forward to a Smarter Future

Year in Review

2020 will go down in history as the year of unprecedented times. From a global pandemic to a volatile economy and waves of demonstrations against racial injustices occurring worldwide, this transformative year will have an impact on the direction of future technologies for years to come. While these tumultuous times have caused disruptions across many industries, forcing many to adapt their operating models to keep up with change, we’ve always operated in an industry known for innovation and rapidly evolving technologies. Keeping up with the current climate is just part of what we do. At Cognitive Systems, as we look toward 2021 and beyond, we’re watching the future of smart homes and the evolution of the IoT industry. We’re also keeping a close eye on how developments in 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will impact home monitoring, wellness monitoring and smart homes.


Direct communication between IoT devices

The progression toward a true smart home has been sure and steady. Within the last couple of years, smart home functionalities that have traditionally operated from a variety of disparate devices, are evolving into more consolidated ecosystems. Currently, devices communicate via different languages (ex. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth) and require a ‘translator’ to work together. For example, if I use WiFi Motion to detect motion in my home, and have a smart light bulb that uses Bluetooth, I need a third-party service such as Apple Home to allow them to work together to turn on the lightbulb when someone enters the room. The goal is to have these technologies work together directly. My Bluetooth light bulb and Wi-Fi-based motion sensor will both use the same protocol and ‘talk’ to each other on their own. The system will detect motion and communicate with the lightbulb through the cloud to turn it on because someone entered the room. Industry leaders are already coming together for Project Connected Home over IP, to work towards a new, royalty-free connectivity standard to increase compatibility among smart home products. This will eventually allow consumers to control all their smart devices – from motion sensing to thermostats to garage door openers – from one place. For this to work and deliver a seamless customer experience, there needs to be a centralized control hub within the home.

Centralized control hub

The logical place is the access point. Currently, your access point needs to connect to the outside world via ethernet or coaxial cable to deliver internet to your home. Once this signal is received by the access point, it is distributed throughout the house using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc. We’re starting to see manufacturers promote the use of 5G to connect your home, replacing ethernet or coaxial. This makes their routers, modems and access points more valuable to digitally-forward consumers by integrating other radios, such as Zigbee. Once you start centralizing through one box, it becomes the controller to which everything is connected and contains all the information necessary to run your entire house. Technology leaders such as Google, Amazon and Comcast are already working to provide these solutions. It’s just a matter of time until we have a centralized box controlling everything in a home, and it will most likely be the router. But how will this impact operational costs?

Operational costs

As smart homes evolve, operational costs will continue to be a key concern for technology manufacturers. With IoT devices, it will be crucial that data processing happens on the individual unit versus sending to the cloud. If data is sent to the cloud to be processed, someone has to pay for this on an ongoing basis as resources are required on the back end to continually compute, no matter how long the device is in your home. However, if data is processed in the unit, as a manufacturer, I only pay for the chips (or memory) once. It doesn’t become an ongoing expense. As consumers adapt to more dynamic applications, we’ll see this trend of data processing taking place on the actual IoT device instead of cloud processing.

In 2020, we saw how a rapid transition to remote work began to reshape the future of how we will work and live. It also facilitated the urgency to create a fully connected home—and not just for the tech savvy. The smart home of the future is for families, children, aging parents and even pets. Everything needs to be simplified. Consumers don’t want more devices or more apps – they want unobtrusive technologies that work together to make life easier. The most frequent reason that IoT devices are returned is due to challenges with set up. We’ll likely see the integration of more set-up principles incorporated throughout systems on the back end before purchase, to create a truly click-on system for consumers.

In 2021, we’ll continue to see work-from-home culture speeding up the adoption of and investments in certain technologies, such as Wi-Fi 6. More consumers are working from their homes and updating their internet plans as a result. As ISPs see more demand, they’re able to invest in more innovative technologies and speed up the rollout plans for others.

We’ll also see a boom in healthtech advancements as a result of the pandemic, as well as accelerated adoption of remote care technologies. We already see healthcare becoming a larger part of our day, from devices like the Fitbit to the ever-growing suite of health features that are part of Apple’s offerings. We should expect to see more technology companies increasing the capabilities of consumer healthtech products. The ability to perform an EKG and monitor blood oxygen levels at home will become commonplace. And they will eventually unify into a bigger picture of healthcare and eldercare offerings.

In the future, we’ll see an elderly population that is more comfortable with tech, but the eldercare industry today needs to work to bridge the gap with seniors that are unfamiliar with complicated technology. That’s why we’re so excited about WiFi Motion’s wellness monitoring capabilities, and caregivers should be too. With the ability to remotely monitor a loved one using only Wi-Fi, both caregivers and their loved ones can have peace of mind.

Working together towards a brighter future

As technology continues to evolve more rapidly than it has in the past, it’s more important than ever for industry players to work together towards solutions that benefit everyone. The potential for technology to make our lives easier is boundless, but it’s a fine line between simplifying user experience and introducing new challenges.